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Key to happiness

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Key to happiness

GARIMA GUPTA writes about how, given the opportunities that women now have, they can shine at meaningful work and live a contended life. Edited excerpt:

Have you paid attention to the lyrics of the immensely hummable song, 'Dhoondhu mai dhoondhu mere brother ki dulhan' from the 2011’s Hindi film Mere Brother ki Dulhan? Unfortunately, I did. I laughed ruefully as I was reminded of the sky-high expectations society (in this case the prospective groom and his family) has of women in India! Nothing short of the perfect blend of JLo, Sonia Gandhi, Kiran Bedi and Mother Teresa will do.

But when they find this incredible woman, whose enviable blend of qualities can even free the world of all evil, what do they do? She is dolled up to be married! This heroine then saves burning toast instead of buildings and stops prams instead of runaway trains. And the person she races to save is her roving toddler- from the evils of the knife, steep stairs and falling chairs. No, she does not receive any police medal or leadership award, though she deserves it, as she steers the household economy away from a debt crisis.

Expanding under Pressure

Being a complete woman' in modern, urban India is tough. You are still the sacrificing Nirupa Roy when situations demand but always with a 'hot momma body and 'employee of the week' badge. So what does this have to do with weight?

A lady once told me, 'I was going to be an astronaut, but became fat instead.' While pressure may contract gases, it tends to expand the body of many women. Jokes apart, one reason that many of us are struggling with increased weight lies outside of us - it is our social context. Simply put, modern life makes it easy to aspire for success, yet very difficult to feel successful as an adult.

This disconnect is a deep stress that alters the body's functioning. Women these days are highly suited for excellence in our careers, with better education, more freedom and exposure than previous generations. But both nature and society dictate that, in spite of cultural and technological advances, the primary caregiver’s role rests with the woman: As a mother, a maid (ayah) or a grandmother. The most appropriate age (between twenty to forty years) to focus on a career is also the time to bear children and rear a family.

We would like to show that, given the opportunities women now have, we can shine at meaningful work. We know that bringing up a family is critical work and that most of it is up to us. Yet, because the world has opened up to the idea of women in important roles, we believe that we must be more than just a mother.

We dream of making our parents proud with our professional achievements. It is almost like our gender does not dictate anymore what we can or cannot dream of, or achieve, in today s world. This is true at least until we marry and have our first baby. After that, family and society's expectations shift dramatically, in most cases. Life looks very different from what we had imagined in college. And so does our body. Many choices that impact our lives need to be made at the cusp of marriage and of parenthood, and the stress and unhappiness take a toll on health.

I believe it is crucial to address these conflicts, expectations and sense of loss in any real conversation on weight. This is important because unfulfilled dreams create food cravings. A hunger for intimacy and beauty is converted into a hunger for pastries and cola, which can be fulfilled more easily. But not without consequences. To be free of this substitution we need to become aware of what we really want, what we are really missing or craving.

We may not have all that we desire, but we can mourn its absence. Knowing one’s real need is a big step towards greater holistic health.

The pressures are different but no less for those who decide to keep their job. Even in the most women-centric workplaces, many feel guilty. Women have earned valued roles in traditionally male realms. Yet, typically, there is a soft, old voice in the head that chides a woman for placing her own needs and aspirations first. Moreover, women are not the primary breadwinners most of the time. So, her career is like the ghee on a roti already provided by the spouse. Even when earning, her primary job remains that of a homemaker. Between spouses, she is the one to stay home if a child is sick or exams are approaching.

So have society and nature ensured that women will feel thwarted and keep gaining weight? No! To be free, we just need a shift in attitude; we need new eyes to look at ourselves and what we do. We deserve love and respect for gracefully striding two distinct worlds. A stay-at-home mother who gives it her best does admirable work of great consequence too. I hope to train my daughter to speak of me as 'COO, CFO and CEO of Home-and-Family Inc.' Now that sounds as important as it actually is.

Excerpted from The Body Nirvana by Garima Gupta, published by Harper Collins, Rs 299

 
 
 
 
 

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